Monday, March 03, 2008

What Bwings Us Togevva

Mawwage, or, at least, that's what Peter Cook thinks. My own feelings have been discussed here; and yesterday, in the Observer, came a long piece from Hannah Bett about her reasons for rejecting marriage, which she lists as: atheism; feminism; suspicion of the intervention of the state in private matters; and, what seems to be the refusal to close off the possibility of sex and love with other people.

Yet despite the internal recognition I feel on reading this, it appears somewhat... naive? Unrealistic? It's certainly not the full picture. In contrast stands the Guardian article earlier this week which discussed - anecdotally, at least - the large numbers of long-term non-marrying couples who are suddenly tying the knot. While Bett cites, to prove her point, last year having the lowest number of marriages in Britain since 1896, those figures sadly do not cite how long the couple was together before they got married, and there seems to be little empirical data on this. Anecdotally, I suppose my own experiences suggest that people are getting married after building solid platforms - long-term cohabitation, establishing careers. This year alone, of the five weddings of my mates that I know of, three of the couples have been together longer than five years.

Rather than the threshold being the first step, marriage has become the final step to adulthood. And, divorce rates are falling, in my opinion, at least, for the very reasons Bett cites for not getting married - feminism, because women are equals with economic power to such a greater extent that they are entering marriages with equals, and atheism's influence in that people don't think they're going to hell if they try out this relationship before certifying it.

So what to believe? The major problem with long-term cohabitation is the legal architecture that has promoted marriage for centuries - the shoring up of assets, tax breaks, inheritance issues. For centuries, women were utterly unprotected and were not just unable to own property, but were it themselves. Finally, women have some form protection, but the only way to do that would be through marriage. What Bett fails to deal with in her article is the very real worry of what happens to the assets, the children, everything if something goes wrong - be it separation or death. This bizarrely, therefore, reduces marriage to what it always was for many long-term couples - not a proof of romantic love but a pragmatic solution to property. However, I guess the romance for me comes into the notion of protecting your loved ones. So, some progress.


person in chair said...

I find your comments on marriage really provocative, especially since I am dealing with some of the good and bad aspects of getting married myself. By way of anecdote, here is something to supplement your thoughts about marriage:

Last night I went to the emergency room (burnt my arm, will be fine) and, despite having been with my partner for 4.5 years and living together, the fact that we aren't legally married meant that I had to provide my mother's name to make medical decisions on my behalf should I become unconscious--even though she is hundreds of miles away. The ability to make medical decisions on behalf of partner is one of those sneaky legal advantages of being legally married. After reading your post, I was curious about others there are in America. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best sources of information were on websites advocating for homosexual marriage

Here's a list cribbed from the (rather goofy), which claims the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. General Accounting Office as its source.

Benefits the United States government provides to legally married couples:
Access to Military Stores
Assumption of Spouse’s Pension
Bereavement Leave
Insurance Breaks
Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner
Sick Leave to Care for Partner
Social Security Survivor Benefits
Sick Leave to Care for Partner
Tax Breaks
Veteran’s Discounts
Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison

Here are a few of the state level benefits within the United States:
Assumption of Spouse’s Pension
Automatic Inheritance
Automatic Housing Lease Transfer
Bereavement Leave
Burial Determination
Child Custody
Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits
Divorce Protections
Domestic Violence Protection
Exemption from Property Tax on Partner’s Death
Immunity from Testifying Against Spouse
Insurance Breaks
Joint Adoption and Foster Care
Joint Bankruptcy
Joint Parenting (Insurance Coverage, School Records)
Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner
Certain Property Rights
Reduced Rate Memberships
Sick Leave to Care for Partner
Visitation of Partner’s Children
Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison
Wrongful Death (Loss of Consort) Benefits

As you wrote in your post, legal marriage is definitely "a pragmatic solution to property"—even in an era when both partners have the potential to make equal financial contributions to the family unit. It also provides a way to protect one's loved ones (and even to decide how to bury them! Morbid thought.) That said, there is no point to getting all enmeshed with someone else unless you like them just a little. In my opinion, the pragmatic advantages are hallow if the romantic bits aren’t there from the get-go...

pumpkin said...

Your comments remind me (YET AGAIN) that TOH and I were supposed to sign medical proxy statements, and have yet to do so. They, apparently, will enable us to do this in NY - but of course, there's no guarantee of that and certainly don't think they translate cross-border.

Thanks for this list, by the way. What terrifies me is just how many people think that common-law marriage exists, and how screwed they get when it's over. I think it exists in only eight states (again, from a gay rights website - far more with it than any other sites). I suppose what I'm advocating here is going into a committed non-marital relationship aware of all these things, not simply to stick your fingers up to the establishment - although, of course, I'm fairly happy doing that, too.